Dicy McCullough: Judy Ridenhour has true rapport with animals
Judy Ridenhour is a-fun loving person who enjoys life on a quiet street in Cleveland. Wearing many hats, she’s a wife, mother, grandmother, neighbor and friend.
Some of Judy’s friendships began when she was growing up in a close-knit neighborhood on the east side of Salisbury during the ‘60s. She and five of her lifelong friends from that neighborhood met for lunch a few weeks ago. Sharing distant memories from their youth, they also caught up on current news and events in their lives.
Although I didn’t grow up with Judy, I’ve known her for years. Even so, it was only recently that I learned about a special “trait” she has. Admiring animal pictures she posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, I sent her a message saying how beautiful they were. She sent a message back saying not only does she love animals, but she also loves taking pictures of them in their natural habitat. Inviting me to her home for a chat, I wondered what Judy wanted to share.
Hesitant at first, she finally opened up about having a rapport with animals that started when her husband, Ronnie, cut down a tree near their backyard. Unfortunately, when Ronnie cut the tree he didn’t realize a nest of baby squirrels were tucked away in one of its branches. Nurturing the squirrels through the winter months, Judy let them go, only to discover they stayed close by.
That spring, noticing an unusual number of squirrels, chipmunks and rabbits in her yard, she began to call them. To her surprise they responded and began to come closer. It was then she realized animals come close to those they trust.
Over time, even the neighbors began to notice Judy’s rapport with animals. Matt Toney, a neighbor who lives across the street, said he has never seen anyone attract animals like Ms. Judy. “I don’t know if it’s her personality, patience or what, but when Ms. Judy is around, they come out of the woodwork to be near her.”
Judy’s husband, Ronnie said, “It’s kind of hard for me during hunting season to kill a deer or dove because of her relationship with them. Sometimes I’m tempted to take Judy deer hunting because they will come out of the woods for her. I guess that wouldn’t be fair to the deer, though”
Knowing Ronnie was only kidding, Judy laughed and said, “God had a reason for putting animals on the ark besides just being our food supply. He meant for them to bring joy into our lives.”
When asked if anyone else in her family had a rapport with animals, Judy replied, “While it’s true all of my grandchildren love animals, my two granddaughters, Emma and Ashlyn seem to have more of a love. Ashlyn, especially, has a natural gift for working with them. Ever since she was a little girl she’s had some kind of animal including birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, fish and a hamster. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had a career in that field someday.”
Ashlyn and Emma both think their grandmother is cool, with Ashlyn saying, “As long as I can remember, my Nana has loved animals. There’s not been a time when I’ve been with her we didn’t encounter some creature. Even wild animals seem to be tame around her.” Recalling a time in the mountains when they saw a deer deep in the woods, Ashlyn said, “When Nana called the deer, it came closer.”
Judy thinks this trait has even rubbed off on Ronnie. Giving an example that happened at High Rock Lake a couple of years ago, she said one afternoon Ronnie took the pontoon boat out and noticed a little turtle with a green head and tail following the boat. Feeling a connection to the turtle, he named it Green Tail.
For the rest of the summer, every time the family took the boat out, there would be Green Tail following behind. This continued until the end of the summer when Ronnie noticed the little turtle wasn’t following anymore. Sad his little friend wasn’t there, Ronnie assumed he must have found a new home.
One of the funniest or maybe scariest stories Judy shared was the time she grabbed a snake by the tail. Generally, not one to pick up snakes or bother them, she did this day because the snake was about to go down a chipmunk hole. With adrenaline pumping and not wanting the snake to hurt her “pets,” Judy grabbed the snake by the tail and “stuck” it in a garbage can. Since it was only a black snake, when Ronnie got home he let it go, making sure it was far enough away from the chipmunk hole to satisfy Judy.
During our visit, I learned that Judy even has a rapport with hummingbirds. Listening in amazement, my mouth dropped when she said hummingbirds often come to the feeder while she’s holding it in her hands. When asked why she thinks they trust her so much, she said, “It’s simple. I spend time with them, so they sense I care.”
Thinking about that philosophy, it occurred to me this works not only for building trust with animals, but people too. In the final analysis that might be the secret to Judy’s life long friendships. She spends time with them, so they sense she cares.
On any given day, if you happen to drive down the winding streets of Cleveland, NC and turn onto Third Creek Church Road, don’t be surprised if you see animals marching two by two, making a pilgrimage to a place of love and acceptance. Judy was right when she said God did have a reason for putting the animals on the ark besides just being a food source. It was to teach us about relationships and what really matters.
Now that the word is out, there’s nothing more to say, except move over Dr. Dolittle, Ms. Judy’s in town.
Dicy McCullough’s books are available at local bookstores, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. Call her at 704-278-4377.